Syrian government warplanes bombarded a strategic, rebel-held Damascus suburb on Thursday as part of an offensive that has been escalating despite a week-old nationwide cease-fire, an opposition monitoring group and residents said.
The assault on Wadi Barada began before the cease-fire went into effect. The suburb is a main source of water to the Syrian capital, and the water supply to some four million residents of the Damascus area has been cut off since Dec. 22, the United Nations said last week, citing damage to infrastructure. City dwellers have been forced to buy water from private vendors as a result.
The offensive started about a week before the truce brokered by regime ally Russia and rebel supporter Turkey took effect in late December. Rebels said it is threatening the fragile agreement.
“The entire cease-fire is on the brink of collapse because of Wadi Barada,” said Ahmed Kura Ali, a spokesman with the hard-line Islamist rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham, which has a presence in the area. Ahrar didn’t sign on to the cease-fire, voicing some reservations over it. But Mr. Ali said his group is abiding by it anyway.
The regime and opposition monitoring groups said the rebel group Syria Conquest Front, formerly known as the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, is mixed in among other rebel factions in Wadi Barada. The Front is excluded from the truce, as is Islamic State, and the regime has vowed to keep up attacks against both groups, which are deemed terrorist organizations by the U.N.
Rebel groups and residents in Wadi Barada deny that the Syrian Conquest Front has any presence in their area—a valley north of Damascus that has been under rebel control since 2012.
During the cease-fire, the regime has continued to attack other rebel-held areas, as well, including the besieged Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus and the countryside south of Aleppo city, according to the U.K.-based opposition monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The government initially accused rebels in Wadi Barada of contaminating the water, while the opposition said the regime had damaged the water system.
The regime has begun pumping well water to Damascus neighborhoods, with each district getting access for about eight hours every five days. Residents are lining up outside mosques and churches to fill up bottles and containers. Clean drinking water has become scarce and expensive in the capital.